The Distant Roots of Beijing’s Palaces



Beijing’s “Forbidden City” was first built between 1406 and 1421 using giant timbers from China’s far southwest. After this massive construction project, the palaces burned repeatedly in the 1500s. These disasters were felt not only in Beijing, but also in remote Sichuan and Guizhou, where the logging projects to supply wood for rebuilding destroyed the growth of centuries and led to outright warfare among the rulers of the region as they competed to cut down the best remaining trees. This two-hundred-year story of disaster and rebuilding reveals how Beijing drew upon the resources of the greater Ming empire.

Author Biography

Ian M. Miller, St. John's University, USA

Ian M. Miller is an assistant professor of history at St. John’s University, where he teaches East Asian history, environmental history, and world history. His research focuses on the long-term social and environmental history of China, and also engages with world environmental history, forest history, energy history, and research methods in digital humanities. His publications include “Forestry and the Politics of Sustainability in Early China” (Environmental History, October 2017) and Fir and Empire: The Transformation of Forests in Early Modern China (University of Washington Press, 2020).

The Yongle Hall.